In the time of Bahá’u’lláh, there lived in Persia a very erudite and accomplished religious scholar, Aqa Muhammad. Aqa Muhammad was so accomplished that later in life he was awarded the degree of “mujtahid” (recognition as an authority in Islamic law) by his teacher.
About the time that Bahá’u’lláh was in the Black Pit (the Siyah-Chal) and there was intense persecution of the followers of the Bab, Aqa Muhammad arrived in Tehran to join a theological school. Aqa Muhammad was interested in metaphysics and philosophy, an interest the head of his new school shared. Aqa Muhammad was befriended by the head who welcome the opportunity to talk about such matters.
Among the other students, some became envious, and they falsely reported Aqa Muhammad as a Babi. The danger he was in was enormous, as people were being taken out each day and tortured and executed in the most ghastly ways – on mere suspicion of being a follower of the Bab.
Here is some of the story as told by his nephew and recorded by Adib Taherzadeh.
It happened that some of the students who were against my involvement in philosophy and disliked philosophers altogether … had gone to Mahmud Khan to … accuse me of being a Babi. [One day] … some soldiers arrived in the early morning and took me to the home of Mahmud Khan … However I managed to write a few lines to [my teacher] and apprise him of my situation.
… I was taken upstairs to the quarters where I met an old man … who was arrested for the same reason. He became very sad when he saw me, expressed sympathy for me and with tears in his eyes begged God for my deliverance.
Then a strange commotion started elsewhere in the house. We heard the cries and groaning of people and realized that some others who had been arrested were being tortured and beaten by the Kalantar. Afterward, the Kalantar came upstairs to a room opposite ours. Afterwards, the Kalantar came to a room opposite ours. … I walked up to him, … I asked ‘What is the reason for summoning me here?’ he said, ‘To carry out the orders of the Shah.’ ‘What am I guilty of ?’ … ‘Is there a greater crime’, he replied, ‘than being a Babi, an enemy of religion and government’. ‘This is a false accusation against me’. … I saw that my words did not make any impression upon him. … and I … submitted myself to my fate.
… In the midst of all this the secretary of [my teacher] arrived and handed him a letter. After reading it, he became relaxed and happy, and began to apologize. He said ‘The Shaykh wants to see you. You had better go at once.” [Taherzadeh, Volume 2]
This was not the end of Aqa Muhammad’s woes. Despite there being no truth to the rumour that he was a Babi, the accusation stuck. As day followed day, the rumour only spread more and more.
I became so well known as a Babi that the people in the streets and bazaars were pointing at me. Some of the theological students shunned me … and kept their distance so that their cloaks would not touch mine. [ibid]
About that time there was another man, Siyyid Ya’qub who was also at the school. Siyyid Ya’qub was himself, in fact, a Babi – although this was not known to Aqa Muhammad. Siyyid Ya’qub came to Aqa Muhammad:
Jokingly, he said to me, ‘Do you realize that you have become known in this city as a Babi? … I replied, ‘But these rumours are without foundation … I know nothing about this community …, have not read even one line of their writings, and have not met with any of them.’
He said ‘In any case you have now become known as a Babi. People’s opinion about you is not going to change whether you read the Writings of the Bab or not. I have come across some of these Writings, but I don’t understand them. Since I have found you to be without prejudice and a trustworthy person, … I have brought them here with me so that you may read them. I would be grateful if you would tell me your findings and conclusions. He then took some papers from his pocket, handed them to me and left. [ibid]
Aqa Muhammad read the papers “but only for amusement” and they “did not impress him in the least”. The next night Siyyid Ya’qub returned wanting to know Aqa Muhammad’s impressions. After hearing Aqa Muhammad’s thoughts, Siyyid Ya’qub became sad.
For some time he remained silent and did not look at me … He then addressed me in these words:
… Turn they gaze upon the inner significances and truth of these Writings so that you may see what no eye has seen, and hear what no ear has heard and feel what no heart has felt.’ Then he looked disppointed … and left. [ibid]
Aqa Muhammad now suspected that Siyyid Ya’qub was secretly a Babi and in order to demonstrate that the Bab’s writing were false he took out the Bab’s writings and read them carefully to disprove them.
Although this was my reason … nevertheless my inner being was overtaken with fear and trembling and I was disturbed. I found myself to be placed on the [bridge] at the crossroads between death and deliverance. However, this time as I read them, to my amazement I found that each line opened a new door of knowledge before my face and a new world appeared in front of my eyes. I could not sleep that night. My astonishment increased every moment as I read and re-read these Writings. … [ibid]
When Aqa Muhammad next met with Siyyid Ya’qub and shared his story Siyyid Ya’qub:
… was … stunned by my news. Tears flowed down his cheeks and his laughter resounded through the room. After that he kept bringing more Writings to me … [ibid]
Aqa Muhammad was to go on to meet Bahá’u’lláh and become one of his leading teachers. He is known by the name Bahá’u’lláh gave him: Nabil-i-Akbar.
Many years later Bahá’u’lláh was to write to him a long letter concerned with the very topic of philosophy with which Aqa Muhammad was so delighted before he absorbed the teachings of the Bab.
Sources: Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh Volume 2, p 341 and following. Abdu’l Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, Nabil-i-Akbar
Image: One of the philosophers whom Aqa Muhammad undoubtedly studied was Avicenna. The image is of the statue of Avicenna and other Persian scholars in United Nations Office in Vienna as a part of the Persian Scholars Pavilion donated by Iran By Yamaha5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29244411
(This article is the 130th in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)